Friday, January 28, 2022

What Are the Best Cleansers for Combination Skin?

  • The best cleansers for combination skin are formulated to balance hydration and oil
  • Gel cleansers are the most appropriate for this skin type as they are lightweight and formulated to cleanse and exfoliate without stripping skin of moisture 
  • Mild exfoliating agents such a glycolic acid can target oily areas of the face; hydrating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid can target dry areas

Combination skin is characterized by oily and dry patches of skin on the face and is a result of overactive oil glands, typically in the T-zone. This skin type can often be a challenge to cleanse  in order to adequately address its differing needs. The best cleansers for combination skin will be formulated to balance out these areas, through the addition of specific ingredients.

Cleanser Benefits for Combination Skin

Cleansers play an important role in skin health by removing oil, dead skin cells and environmental debris from pores, exfoliating the top layer of skin, and leaving skin clean and refreshed. But they can also deliver a number of benefits through the actions of added ingredients that support hydration, regulate oil production and protect the skin barrier.

Washing with a cleanser designed specifically for combination skin will work to balance oily and dry patches so that skin is more uniform. The characteristic signs of oily skin—large pores, shine and blemishes—will improve in the oily areas; flaking, irritation, redness and tightness will resolve in dry areas.

Best and Worst Types of Cleansers for Combination Skin

There are a variety of cleansers on the market, each formulated to target specific skin concerns and types. They are also available in mild- to full-strength formulas in gel, cream, lotion, foam, bar and no-rinse formats.  

When looking specifically at combination skin, the options are more limited. Unlike cream and bar formats, gel and foam cleansers are formulated to avoid any overly moisturizing or drying effects. 

It is important to understand your skin’s specific needs in order to identify the type that will deliver the best results. The best cleanser will maintain pH levels, remove excess oil, add hydration and gently exfoliate – without disturbing the skin barrier and causing irritation.

The best cleansers for combination skin are water-soluble and noncomedogenic to effectively cleanse skin without clogging pores and leaving skin uncomfortably dry. They are listed as follows from best to worst:

Gel cleansers

Alcohol-free gel cleansers are ideal for combination skin as they are lightweight, formulated to deeply cleanse the skin and gently exfoliate without stripping its natural oils. Their consistency makes them suitable for the oilier areas of the face as they do not leave behind an oily residue.

Foaming cleansers

Foaming cleansers can be drying and irritating to combination skin due to the foaming agents that create the sudsy texture. Sodium lauryl sulphate, in particular, has been found to disrupt the skin barrier by disturbing skin’s pH resulting in sensitized skin.

However, these negative effects can be avoided by choosing a cleanser with a light foam base that contains active ingredients such as ceramides and hyaluronic acid to restore moisture and protect the skin’s barrier. A foaming cleanser can address combination skin by gently exfoliating away excess oil and maintaining skin health by boosting moisture.

Cream cleansers

Cream cleansers are typically formulated for dry and sensitive skin, and contain a variety of rich occlusive ingredients. These cleansers are not appropriate for combination skin as they can be too heavy for oilier areas and can clog pores. 

Best Ingredients for Combination Skin Cleansers

Combination skin can develop clogged pores and breakouts in the T-zone, the oiler areas of the face. Cleansers containing ingredients such as salicylic and glycolic acid can help unclog pores to reduce the appearance of blemishes, and help prevent future breakouts.

A must-have for this skin type is the addition of hydrating and soothing ingredients to combat drier patches of skin, and to maintain skin’s elasticity and suppleness. Hyaluronic acid can deeply moisturize dryness by attracting and retaining moisture to soften, plump and strengthen skin.

When choosing a cleanser, look for active ingredients that will work in harmony to address both the dry and oily areas of your face. 

Glycolic acid

Glycolic acid is an alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA) that offers two strong benefits. It helps reduce oiliness, clears clogged pores and gently exfoliates. It is also a powerful humectant, and can draw moisture to dry patches of skin. Together, these actions benefit the needs of the differing areas of skin and help balance moisture levels.

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is a substance that is naturally produced in the body, and plays an essential role in hydrating the outer layers of skin. As with glycolic acid, hyaluronic acid attracts and retains moisture to the skin which plumps and smooths skin, and provides a youthful appearance.

Salicylic acid

Salicylic acid is a powerhouse agent that clears pores of debris and excess oil, reduces the look of blemishes and regulates oil production to prevent blackheads and whiteheads (comedones) from forming. It also provides gentle exfoliation to enable a more even skin tone.

In a comparative study of a salicylic acid cleanser and a benzoyl peroxide wash, only salicylic acid significantly reduced comedone counts.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E scavenges free radicals to provide photoprotective benefits and has been demonstrated to stabilize the skin barrier. It soothes dryness and irritation and as such, can be an effective choice to moisturize dry patches of skin.

Best Cleansers for Different Types of Combination Skin

Acne-prone combination skin

For acne-prone combination skin, consider a lightweight gel that contains both salicylic and glycolic acid.

Salicylic acid can be found in low strengths in facial cleansers to clear pores of debris and oils, and prevent comedones from forming; glycolic acid also exfoliates and hydrates dry skin.  

Sensitive combination skin

If you have sensitive combination skin, opt for a lightweight cream-to-foam cleanser; you will benefit from the richer cream formula without the heaviness of a typical cream cleanser. 

This formula starts off as a cream and transforms into a nonirritating hydrating foam to cleanse and moisturize skin. 

Sensitive combination skin also needs soothing and moisturizing ingredients. Chamomile has effective anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties to soothe redness, itchiness and irritation;  niacinamide can reduce oil production. 

Severe combination skin

For combination skin that is characterized by extremely dry and oily areas, opt for a specially formulated cleanser that contains polyhydroxy acid, an exfoliant.

This acid has larger molecules than other exfoliants so it can’t penetrate as deeply to strip skin of its protective oils and cause irritation. Instead, it clears oil and debris from pores and gently smooths the skin.  It also works effectively as a humectant to balance moisture and soothe extremely dry skin. 


When choosing a cleanser for combination skin, it’s important to select a product that addresses your specific needs. 

Lightweight gel cleansers are the most appropriate for this skin type as they are designed to address dry and oily areas to cleanse and exfoliate without stripping skin of moisture. 

Dry skin will see improvements with the addition of hyaluronic acid and vitamin E; excess oil can be addressed by the addition of salicylic and glycolic acid. Those with sensitive combination skin should opt for skin-soothing ingredients, such as chamomile or niacinamide. 

There are a variety of gel and lightweight foam cleansers specifically formulated for combination skin; they contain ingredients to address oily, dry and sensitive patches of skin. To maintain the health of your skin, avoid using heavy cream cleansers and overly-drying foam washes.

» Show all

Latest Articles